…Nollywood grips Kenya, Ethiopia
A reporter with a France-based publication, Le Monde Diplomatique, once wrote that "the Nigerian film Industry has served in no small measure in laundering Nigeria's battered image abroad". How true the statement rings. From Nairobi to Kampala, from Dar es Salam to Addis Ababa, Nigerian home videos are selling like hot cakes and the people from the horn of Africa don't seem to have enough of our artistes.
Rachel Onyiro, a Kenyan working with an International Non Governmental Organizaton, Action Against Hunger, has been enjoying Nigerian videos for the last five years. At a chance meeting, she pulled me aside and asked why Nigerians always spoke loudly and with emphasis. During our brief acquaintance, Onyiro always greeted me as "my brother o! But aside that, she could freely reel out names of the about twenty star Nollywood artistes without blinking an eyelid.
"My brother oo. I love Nigerian videos a lot', Onyiro conversed. "I love Genevieve. She is so cute and has a good mastery of English language. Is Ramsey Noah really a Nigerian? He is just too handsome", she praised. "Your movies are head above shoulder than the ones we produce here in Kenya. The Ghanaians are still trying to learn from you people. But they should learn to cut out most of the fetish parts."
In Nairobi, apart from a drove of Nigerian traders who sell the genuine videos on the streets, some smart Kenyans have resorted to pirating the movies in seven-in-one DVDs.
Okey Nnadi, a Nigerian based in Kenya is not very happy with this trend. He said: "My country men are losing money through the activities of these pirates who are reaping where they did not sow. For now there is nothing we can do. I only sell the original videos which I order whenever someone is traveling home. On the other hand, we cannot complain too much because Kenyans have come to respect us and know more about our culture through these films."
In Ethiopia, the country of the famed Emperor Haile Sellassie, reggae has ceased to be the main source of entertainment attraction despite the considerable number of Jamaican immigrants in the country. Currently, Nigerian movies have relegated the once popular Indian movies to the back shelves. Prior to 2006, Indian movies freely found their ways into the Ethiopian market because of the strong bilateral relations between the two countries. But Nigerian videos are now in high demand. According to Eshetu Tolessa "Ethiopians prefer Nigerian movies because they are acted by our African brothers and we identify more with them than with Hollywood or Bollywood productions".
Nigerian movies have transformed the film rentals business in that country. Since the advent of what they popularly call Nigerian films, the rentals business has never remained the same. Many indigenes have set up rental shops to meet the burgeoning demand. The Christian movies from the stables of Mount Zion Ministries are much in demand just as the secular productions. Initially they sourced these movies from members of the Nigerian community who brought limited copies on arrival from Nigeria. The movies over-watched and are later sold to the people at higher prices.
But the more they saw the movies, the more insatiable and wiser they became. They started looking towards Kenya and Dar es Salam to smuggle in the videos. With the rising demand for the videos, a few smart Ethiopian recording studios such as Dibora, Dallas and others started pirating the videos directly from the cable African Magic station. They didn't stop there. They translated these videos into amharric, which is their official language, and this inevitably broadened the base of those who can never do without watching Nigerian movies.
Though Nigerians residing in that country are unhappy that our artistes have not organized themselves very well as to reap financially from these countries, they're always full of pride whenever the people describe our movies in glowing terms.
Almaz Kebede is one restless Ethiopian lady who cannot do without Nigerian acts. After enjoying a movie in which Richard Mofe Damijo starred in, she never knew any rest. Kebede even started referring to RMD as her husband. As I made to leave that country, she asked me to connect him to the popular actor. Not even the information that RMD was already married could deter her.
Some of the younger kids in the Ato Meles - led country have added a mischievous dimension to the popularity of Nigerian movies. After watching such movies as Osoufia in London, Mr.Ibu and Police Recruits, which starred the inane John Okafor, they resorted to calling me Mr. Ibu behind my back. The midget actors, Aki na Pawpaw also have a cult-follower ship in these East African cities. They were always bemused that such "young boys" could be so funny and talented.